To generate suggestions applicable to Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program in the future, the group discussed the selection of final disposal sites for high-level radioactive waste (HLW) and ways to ensure flexibility in spent fuel management, referring to examples in other countries and also taking into account the aim of coprosperity with local communities.

At the start, Yamaguchi talked about the following four keys for the sustainable use of nuclear energy:

  • Justifiability—consistency with the basic policy aimed at implementing the country’s green transformation (GX) and nationally determined contributions (NDC).
  • Appropriateness—matching the purposes provided in Article 1 of the Atomic Energy Basic Act (to secure energy resources in the future, achieve scientific and technological progress, promote industry, and prevent global warming.
  • Potentiality—safety improvements through innovative technology and rational backend processes.
  • Realizability—societal trust and national understanding, sound relationships with siting municipalities, and flexibility in medium-to-long-term responses.

He said that not only should the national government come to the fore in activities toward the final disposal of HLW, but that the nuclear industry should also increase the flexibility of its response by reinforcing safety management and storage capabilities for the sake of energy security over the medium to long term.

Next, President KONDO Shunsuke of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) outlined Japan’s current activities. In the selection process for a final disposal site, NUMO began publicly inviting applications for literature surveys in 2002, and published a Map of Scientific Features in 2017. In 2020, Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village, both in Hokkaido, applied for literature surveys. Draft reports on those surveys were completed recently, in February 2024.

Kondo expressed NUMO’s determination, saying, “It is not an easy path, but we will walk it sincerely for the sake of the sustainable use of nuclear power.” At the end, he emphasized that operators would provide proper information and listen to diverse opinions through dialogs with various regional communities―in other words, getting trust is essential. Activities proposed by an operator for implementation in a location must, he said, be recognized there as necessary and justified. For operators to be trusted, they must recognize the communities themselves as important.

Next, Daniel DELORT, head of the International Relations Department of France’s National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA), made a presentation on the theme, “From siting to licensing: the French deep geological repository (DGR), main challenges and success factors.”

In January 2023, ANDRA applied for permission to build Cigéo, a facility for the deep geological disposal of HLW and long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste. Delort explained that the Cigéo project was carried out in phases. He said that the project had steadily procured funds, with the continuing and strong involvement of the French National Assembly and the clear sharing of roles and responsibilities.

Delort then noted four principal factors in Cigéo’s success:

  • Ensuring clear governance and continuing dialog with stakeholders.
  • Developing a roadmap and milestones with time cushions for making decision
  • Enabling R&D to provide scientific grounds for determining each milestone.
  • Securing stable financing and passing laws and ordinances enabling the creation of a multi-year development plan.

Next to speak was Anna PORELIUS, senior vice president for Communications and Public Affairs at the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB), who gave a presentation on the backend progress in Sweden and achieving local consensus.

In Sweden, HLW is currently stored at the CLAB spent fuel interim storage center in Oskarshamn. Short-lived intermediate-level and low-level radioactive waste is disposed of in bedrock on the sea floor. Construction of a spent fuel final disposal facility is being planned in Forsmark.

Poreilius said that in the past, concerns regarding final disposal sites had escalated to the level of demonstrations protesting them due to a lack of communications with the public. In contrast, she said, support for final disposal had reached 86% by 2023.

In the site-selection process, based on safety as the top priority, she said that the operator encourages the municipality to participate voluntarily, working openly with transparency to develop a consensus. Phase-by-phase implementation of investigations, assessments, and operations are the keys to the success of a project.

Finally, noting that the Swedish regulatory authority is highly regarded for its neutrality and expertise, she stressed that an operator must be a member of the regional community and endeavor conscientiously to build the community together with its partners.

After her, Tiina JALONEN, senior vice president for Development and Sustainability at the Finnish firm Posiva, talked about ONKALO, a spent fuel repository facility under construction in Finland. In December 2021, Posiva applied for permission to operate the facility on Olkiluoto Island, which had been officially chosen as the final disposal site in 2001.

At present, the company is continuing its construction and trial operations of systems, expecting to start trial operation of the entire facility this year. Posiva is also constructing an encapsulation plant for spent fuel on the ground surface in ONKALO.

Jalonen cited the following reasons for the selection of Olkiluoto Island:

  • Geological suitability for long-time use
  • Sufficient overall area
  • The fact that most of the country’s spent fuel is already on the island
  • Existing local infrastructure
  • The understanding of the local residents
  • Strategic importance for the region’s future.

She said that her company had tried to promote local understanding by doing conducting such activities as holding gatherings with residents every two months. In a local referendum held immediately before the site-selection decision, about 60% of the residents supported the site’s candidacy. Additionally, according to national surveys, although only about 10% of the respondents had been positive about the safety of geological disposal back in 1990, that percentage rose to about 40% in 2020.

She also pointed out the following points as keys to successful siting:

  • The reliability of the operator and its continued demonstration of transparency
  • Reliable governmental authorities, clear processes, and the sharing of responsibilities and roles
  • The beneficial role played by the nuclear industry for the public

Moderator Yamaguchi concluded Session 2 by summarizing the valuable insights that it can give Japan going forward, as follows:

  • The need for the validity of nuclear power and final disposal to be conveyed to local communities so as to gain their trust.
  • The need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders.

The need for the regulatory authority to be dependable and independent and to possess clear expertise, in order for the public—both regional and nationwide—to accept assurances of safety.